White Sox continue shedding international money while rebuilding for some reason

There’s usually one move early in the offseason that signals the real start of a specific offseason to me. It’s not the first move or the first stage. Rather, it’s the first move the White Sox didn’t have to make.

Last year, that move occurred on Oct. 26, when the Angels claimed Kevan Smith off waivers. Smith was a flawed player, but he had a nice year by his standards for the White Sox and stepped up behind the plate when Welington Castillo was suspended. His inability to stop a running game posed problems, and so the White Sox sought an upgrade at the position, first by putting Smith on waivers. They didn’t have to, but they chose to. The offseason was underway.

Technically, the White Sox winter began when they opened four 40-man roster spots on Monday by outrighting Manny Bañuelos, Ryan Cordell, Ryan Goins and Matt Skole, but all of them were on the vulnerable end of the 40-man roster, so that strikes me as a simple, mandatory item of business.

For me, one move among many made by the White Sox on Thursday put the winter in motion, and it’s the last one on this list.

It’s weird seeing José Abreu declare free agency, and the White Sox made a trade — a lot more on that in a little bit — but those were required by the circumstances.

With Josh Osich, the White Sox didn’t have to lose him. He finished the season tied for the bullpen lead in wins (four) and innings (67⅔), and led the entire staff in walk rate (5.5 percent). He also led the White Sox in homers allowed and had an ERA of 4.66, but he posted a 2.96 ERA over the final two months, with peripherals that matched and a new pitch mix (cutter-slider) to explain it.

With an arbitration figure of $1 million, cost wasn’t the problem. It’s just that Osich turned 31 in September and the three-batter minimum rule starts next year. Even with Osich pitching well, he still allowed a .298/.365/.439 line against righties in August and September. The Sox think there’s a better use of that roster spot, and thus the journey of intentional roster transformation begins.

* * * * * * * * *

There was also one move that stood out for the opposite reason. For the second time this season, the White Sox dealt international money for the Texas Rangers for the sole purpose of getting the Rangers to buy out one of their expiring contracts previously thought untradeable.

At the trade deadline in July, the Rangers acquired Nate Jones for $1 million of international bonus money because they were willing to accept the $1.25 million buyout obligation Jones faced. Thursday, they acquired Welington Castillo, who was on the verge of being bought out of his option year for $500,000, for $250,000 more spending power. Sum it up, and the White Sox gave away $1.25 million of international bonus money they were free to use to avoid $1.75 million in buyouts.

These weird points-for-cash transactions are an unwelcome twist on what was until this point a harmless trend. The White Sox are no strangers to dealing international bonus pool money, and at one point it probably made sense. When the White Sox were limited to $300,000 bonuses because of the penalty incurred for signing Luis Robert and other teams were loading up for a run at Shohei Ohtani, one could see the White Sox trying to pry off working parts from teams who might have been blinded by mania.

Probably not by coincidence, that’s when they got their best talent. Since then, the returns have diminished substantially.

  • July 15, 2017: Traded international bonus money to the Texas Rangers for Yeyson Yrizarri.
  • Aug. 11, 2017: Traded international bonus money to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Ryan Burr.
  • Nov. 16, 2017: Traded $500,000 of international bonus money to the Seattle Mariners for Thyago Vieira.
  • —OHTANI SIGNS WITH ANGELS —
  • March 28, 2018: Traded $250,000 of international bonus money to the Philadelphia Phillies for Ricardo Pinto.
  • July 29, 2018: Traded $1.5 million of international bonus money to the New York Yankees for Caleb Frare.
  • Dec. 11, 2018: Traded Yordi Rosario and $500,000 of international bonus money to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Iván Nova.
  • LUIS ROBERT PENALTY ENDS
  • July 31, 2019: Traded Nate Jones, cash and $1 million of international bonus money to Rangers for Joe Jarneski and Ray Castro.
  • Oct. 31, 2019: Traded Welington Castillo and $250,000 of international bonus money to the Texas Rangers for Jonah McReynolds.

The Nova trade is a separate case, but the White Sox used international bonus pool money along with Rosario to improve their 25-man roster. I’d call that a productive use of the money. Burr looked like he was on the cusp of sticking in the White Sox bullpen before he tore his UCL, but if you can isolate the talent from the injury sidelining him, it’s a minor victory for the philosophy.

You have to stretch to give them company, but not by an unreasonable amount. Vieira gave the Sox velocity their high-minors didn’t have, but a lack of a control and a decent secondary pitch have capped his ceiling at Triple-A after multiple shots at the MLB lifestyle. Frare was promising enough to break camp with the Sox in 2019, but injuries and control issues swallowed his stock whole. We don’t have a lot of context for what international money can buy on the trade market, but this seems like an OK return while waiting to shed the max bonus restrictions.

Teams usually come roaring out of the gate when the penalty period ends. Here’s Baseball America’s Ben Badler on the Dodgers during the 2018-19 period:

The Dodgers couldn’t sign anyone for more than $300,000 in the 2015-16 or 2017-18 signing periods, so they aggressively attacked the 2018-19 period when they were out of the penalty box. That allowed them to beat other teams to the punch on Diego Cartaya, who ranked as the No. 3 international prospect for July 2 last year and the top player available from Venezuela. Some teams considered him the top overall international prospect in the class.

Here’s Badler on the Giants during the same period:

Out of the penalty in 2018, the Giants paid $2.6 million to sign Dominican shortstop Marco Luciano, the top 16-year-old prospect available last year and the No. 2 overall prospect, behind only Cuban center fielder Victor Victor Mesa. Luciano, now 17, has big offensive upside.

Here are the Washington Nationals, this year via MLB.com:

After spending the past two seasons using its international slot money to fill out depth, Washington targeted a few key players this year and landed one of the top pitchers from Venezuela.

The group was headlined by right-hander Andry Lara, No. 16 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 International Prospects list, who signed a deal worth $1.25 million, sources told MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez.

The White Sox did spent a significant amount of money on an international prospect in their return to the forum, handing $2.5 million to shortstop Yolbert Sanchez. Yet it doesn’t mark a genuine return to competition because Sanchez will be 23 years old before he sees his first stateside action. He defected from Cuba, as did three of the White Sox’ top international signings from the previous year, and one of their max signings from the year before that.

Besides Sanchez, the White Sox tried their hand at Tatis lightning striking twice (whoa, Tatis Lightning) with Fernando’s brother Elijah, along with a few other low-six-figure signings, but they finished the initial flurry of signing with $2 million in reserve. They’ve since traded three-quarters of that to the Texas Rangers for two rookie-ball pitchers with no upward traction and a 23-year-old who has a .619 OPS in three tries at the short-season Northwest League. Sure, the White Sox have saved $1.75 million in buyouts, but why should we even care when the team is carrying a bottom-third payroll in a top-three market?

There isn’t yet a satisfying reason why the White Sox seem either indifferent to or frozen out of the international market save Cuban defectors. Once can only reverse-engineer a reason, in that the White Sox haven’t matriculated a traditional international signing beyond A-ball success since Paddy arrived in 2011. Micker Adolfo, who signed at the age (16) and bonus level ($1.6 million) typical of top talent, still reflects the White Sox’ best shot at glory six grueling seasons later.

It’s here where I wonder about what will be the most damaging aspect of the Fernando Tatis Jr. trade. Obviously the White Sox dealt away a future star they could sorely use for James Shields before he played a professional game, and that sucks. But more than the immediate MLB production and projectability they lack, I wonder what the White Sox’ attitude toward international development would look like if they had a Tatis showing all the benefits of doing it right. I wonder how international prospects would view the White Sox if they had anybody who used the Sox system to springboard into stardom.

Maybe Adolfo will be that guy. Maybe Lenyn Sosa’s slow-but-steady progress in Kannapolis at age 19 will result in a dynamic 2020 at Winston-Salem. Maybe Jose Rodriguez will perform well enough for a full-season affiliate for everybody to learn who he is and how they got them. Dollar amounts don’t always tell the whole story, but when Robert’s $26 million bonus is the only expenditure yielding returns, maybe the White Sox are the proverbial poor man who always pays twice, only now they’re less willing to pay at all, at least until an international draft arrives to complete the bending of the amateur market to the White Sox’ will.

If you’re looking for silver lining, the disregard of international money removes one obstacle from signing top-tier free agent talent. Any free agent who rejects a qualifying offer and signs for more than $50 million requires the signing team’s second-highest draft pick and $500,000 of international money. The Nova trade shows that they’ll hand over the $500,000 themselves, so that shouldn’t get in the way of pursuing Gerrit Cole or whoever else clears that bar.

That part just requires faith in the White Sox setting a market. They were in a perfect position to do so last offseason, but they spent the whole winter asking to be outbid, and their wish was eventually granted. In response, Rick Hahn gave his the-haters-said-we-would-never speech a one-year extension. The disappointing finishes for the Padres and Phillies reduced the heat, but now it’s back on.

The lengthy timetable for international prospect realization makes it easy to write off in an isolated year, but it’s a big-picture issue. The White Sox’ pre-rebuild farm rankings show how hard it is for a farm system to produce talent on a reliable basis when it abstains from meaningful international investment. If they’re trying to build a pipeline with one hand tied behind their back while handcuffing themselves in free agency, the math says they’re going to be short of hands when all of them are supposed to be on the deck.

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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asinwreck

What role does Special Assistant Marco Paddy play in the decision to deal away so many slots? Is he telling his bosses that there’s no worthwhile talent to be had? Are they ignoring his scouting reports for short-term savings? Are the Sox prioritizing international talent slightly more than they were in the wake of the Wilder scandal?

It doesn’t make sense.

As Cirensica

If they’re trying to build a pipeline with one hand tied behind their back while handcuffing themselves in free agency, the math says they’re going to be short of hands when all of them are supposed to be on the deck.

I know we keep complimenting Jim to the point that he might feel a bit annoyed by it, but that closing sentence…man. That’s sports writing with a magnificent touch of snark in a artistic fashion.

karkovice squad

The Jim Paradox is the level of care and craft he brings to covering an organization that rarely displays either trait. It’s simultaneously a hallmark and underrated.

andyfaust

Yes I find this extremely disheartening. I could handle it when the explanation was that they were still in the Luis Robert penalty box. I could even handle it if they made a move like that out of the blue just because they thought the international teenager market sucked that year. But as Jim showed us above, this happens every year now. The White Sox are acknowledging that they are no good in the international market. And rather than addressing this deficiency like any team normally would, they voluntarily sit out.
the money will be spent. …but definitely not in Latin America.

vince

The Machado debacle last year blew away any hope/trust the fan base had with Hahn and JR doing anything different this time around. It’s hard to view moves like this in good faith when there is zero trust in the current regime.

mikeyb

I’m only ok with it if their very next trade is for Gerrit Cole’s Brother-In-Law Brandon Crawford.

NDSox12

I had not considered this. Hahn has probably been on the phone with the Giants for weeks now.

karkovice squad

They used to have 2 excuses for not pursuing amateur players before: the Wilder scandal and ideological opposition to the Wild West market. They hired Paddy to rebuild their international operation and they negotiated a cost-restricted system in the CBA. Yet apart from a couple isolated incidents, their approach has barely changed.

Given the full picture, it’s hard to see how this organization cares about even finishing second let alone winning a championship. They don’t want to spend on premier free agents but they also don’t want to do the low-cost things to build a sustainable internal talent pipeline.

So what are they even doing here? Just banking profit and suppressing salaries by reducing demand?

karkovice squad

Right, it’s not any 1 thing that’s excessively problematic. It’s the sum of all the things. Other than being the best at deciding to trade 3 players with longer, more affordable contracts than the norm, what else do they do better than average?

vince

If you look at the White Sox as a step above minor league team feeding affordable talent to actual contenders, they are very above average.

karkovice squad

Oh, good. They’ve replaced the Royals (or maybe the Expos) in the Marlins’ peer group.

Greg Nix

I had this feeling early in the season, but it was mostly subsumed by enjoying good seasons from Timmy, Giolito and Moncada. But now it’s definitely back: the only thing that the Sox are better at than Major League average is groundskeeping, and even then Dustin Fowler has a pretty good case against them.

karkovice squad

They had a short-lived advantage in fan safety, tho.

Greg Nix

I imagine Jerry thinks of himself as the last bastion protecting the way that baseball SHOULD operate. He’d probably genuinely love to win another championship, but ONLY if that championship validates his philosophy that players shouldn’t make more than X dollars or be guaranteed more than X years. If that doesn’t happen, he’d rather sink the ship so he can plunder it for treasure.

I’ll admit that this isn’t as good a metaphor as the one Jim wrote about hands, but I think it’s equally accurate.

Greg Nix

Of the many reasons this is bullshit, one thing strikes me as especially frustrating: if you refuse to recognize the ways in which running a pro sports team are meaningfully different than any other business (i.e. it’s a community investment; it’s a monopoly; other orgs will prioritize winning over profitability and thus inflate the ‘business climate’) then THAT MAKES YOU BAD AT BUSINESS. So sell the team and go run a fucking venture capitalist firm.

Also, cigars are awful and Jerry liking them doesn’t surprise me at all.

karkovice squad

The other thing that’s bullshit is running the org like a mom & pop cornershop rather than modernizing it like a business with a $2.5bn valuation and 9-figure revenues.

other orgs will prioritize winning over profitability and thus inflate the ‘business climate’

Since the 80s the league has used its monopoly power to approve ownership bids only of owners who mostly won’t do that. Partly Ueberroth’s influence heading into the overt collusion days. Hence a soft salary cap that’s largely treated as a hard cap and a qualifying offer that’s declined in value for the first time. And while the Sox might have genuinely been surprised the Padres bidsniped Machado from them, the Padres also didn’t have to pay an above-market premium to accomplish it.

Marty34

I honestly believe the Sox and Phillies colluded on Machado and Harper and when Machado was locked out of Citizens Bank Park for his visit that was a signal to the Sox that the fix was on.

egib52

I 100% think they colluded. Surprise, the Sox got screwed.

karkovice squad

Please. His goal would be to come out ahead on the insurance claim and selling salvage rights not plunder it himself.

PauliePaulie

They’ve given up until MLB implements the international draft.

Rooting for a team this opposed to innovation is becoming increasingly difficult.

karkovice squad

I’d accept competence in lieu of innovation, though.

ParisSox

I’m almost of the thinking that if they keep this philosophy then fuck it, go against the grain and bring back the Kenny Williams style.  In that mode they might have actually signed some free agents last winter when the market was dead. 

As Cirensica

I have been saying this for years. If I have 2 choices,between Hahn and KW, I pick KW in a heartbeat. Hahn is, in my opinion, one of the worse baseball GMs money can buy. He is probably a wizard on the finance side of things, but his baseball acumen is nonexistent.

metasox

KW’s approach might suit this era of free agency with the opportunity to ‘roll the dice’ on some possibly undervalued players and catch an upside surprise

PauliePaulie

With the # of “older” players, many of their signees are 17+, players related to former major leaguers and Cuban defectors, there very well may be an edict from above forbidding business with buscones for kids 2 years in advance of their signing age.
Obviously this would severly inhibit their chances of success.

karkovice squad

Thing is that abstention isn’t the only option. Even with the pool limits they could also defect by trying to outbid for eligible players…I’ll come in again.

PauliePaulie

True. Fully vetted and with a known bonus # to beat, Yiddi Cappe, was there for the taking this year.

Josh Nelson

I still don’t know what the point of Yolbert Sanchez is

Right Size Wrong Shape

Trying to fool fans of Yolmer Sanchez.

Neat_on_the_rocks

its a bit perplexing, but if the idea is “spend all the International money you can”, than I view it as a something is better than nothing situation. But even outside of that, i see some pros to Yolbert Sanchez.

In theory he is a guy could be fast tracked to the Majors as a + defensive replacement at 3B/SS/2B. A guy like that with a fresh set of team options and years of cost control definitely has value. No guarantee he actually is that + defensive guy I understand that but that is what they’re projecting. Offensively still apparently a looong way off but he has the physical tools to maybe figure something out. There is also that added benefit of the Sox’s continued “Cuban dominance”. In a time where all teams are now playing under the same Financial restrictions – having a very good and positive reputation of being “the cuban team” is a pretty good “hypothetical advantage” moving forwarsd.

Not your typical High Floor Low Ceiling guy that you’d like to get out of international league. But operating under the “something is better than nothing” principle along with some of the stuff I mentioned, I dont hate it.

Jason.Wade17

Being the oldest and with a feasibly mlb ready glove, he would take much less development to become playable.

The cynical take, international players take a crap ton of development to become a worthy investment. That cost to make a 16/17 year old into a pro ball player that returns value is much higher than the 50/100/300,000 that these guys sign for. The White Sox aren’t willing to spend the money to develop players, so why waste money on ones that have a very minimal chance of returning on that investment

karkovice squad

That’d be excusable if they were still trading the pool money for players already in MiLB (or even fringe Major Leaguers) who offer tools not already in the system or a better likelihood of panning out. Neither of their trades with TX this year accomplished that.

Jason.Wade17

Agreed. If the mindset is, well we can’t develop them anyways, lets maximize the value we can get from this pool value by trading it. That’s almost understandable. (ie. the Burr, Viera, Frare trades Jim mentioned)

But using it to save 1.75 million when you have so little salary commitments is just puzzling.

As Cirensica

That’s a terrible plan and likely the most expensive one if you ask me. Signing players for 16K and transforming them into Jose Altuves is a helluva ROI.

In my opinion, they don’t do it that way because they know they can’t do it. They don’t know how to do it. That is, they suck at their jobs, and don’t want to overexpose something that some people might not know (that they suck).

karkovice squad

If they recognize that’s neither a current core competency nor one they know how to fix, better to deploy an inefficient work-around than to not address it at all.

Jason.Wade17

It takes 10’s of millions of dollars to turn Jose Altuve into Jose Altuve. 16K is literally only a speck on that iceberg.

I’d rather the Sox be willing to invest in player development; however, if they aren’t and they understand that’s weaknesses, possibly trades is the way to maximize that pool value.

As Cirensica

It takes 10’s of millions of dollars to turn Jose Altuve into Jose Altuve.

Prove it. I hardly think that’s the cost. And even if that’s the cost, it is still a helluva ROI.

Jason.Wade17

Sure, let me send you the Astro’s entire financial spreadsheet’s. You want that in pdf or excel?

Why are so argumentative about it? Of course, Jose Altuve has been a success story. There’s a reason everyone wishes their team was as successful as the Astros with player development. I’ve said multiple times it would be great if the White Sox had better success with it. Knowing they don’t, I’m just giving a possible reason as to why they don’t value pool money as highly as fans would like.

As Cirensica

If you don’t know it’s 10 million, then don’t say it costs 10 million.

karkovice squad

It absolutely costs 10s of millions. But that’s amortized across every player in the organization.

Jason.Wade17

@karkovice_squad
While that’s true its spread out, the cost of the failed prospect is added to it, not divided from it.

To get one player with that type of success, you get 100 without. You still had to incur the costs of all 100. You aren’t just signing the one player and having success.

As Cirensica

Let me get this straight, developing talented players is expensive, hence let’s avoid having talented prospects to keep costs at bay? That way we can use the savings to buy talent at the free agent tag price or by trading away whatever talent the organization accidently found in its way?

This organization is really run by clowns

karkovice squad

Every team bears the cost of attrition from participating in the affiliate system regardless of effectiveness, though. So that’s different than the added upfront costs of running an effective development operation.

Also leaves out how the production of the successes exceeds the value of the costs incurred. And how investing in development improves efficiency.

The Sox have demonstrated a tolerance of only 2 kinds of inefficiency, though: the aforementioned normal attrition (which they’ve also experienced worse than any other org since Rick took over) and below-market deals that produce even worse results on the field.

Jason.Wade17

The only other cynical take I can come away from with these trades is that the recruitment process in latin america is going terribly and hence Marco Paddy needs to be fired (or more likely in the Sox case, re-assigned).
Teams have “deals” with players well ahead of the July 2 signing date. If the White Sox know that have more pool than needed, then sure trade it, but to me, that indicates more of a failure to be able to get those deals.